Bonjour, Mr. Satie (1991) by Tomie dePaola is the story of two children, Rosalie and Conrad, their uncle, Mr. Satie, and his “companion,” Ffortusque Ffollet, Esq.
When the two world travelers visit their family, they bring Paris to America through French cuisine, a smattering of French words, and enchanting stories of the artists, authors, and other characters they befriend in Paris.
The story manages to be kid-friendly and subtly sophisticated through references to Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse. This is an early and quite casual representation of homosexuality that is both campy and cozy. It remains well worth the read nearly THIRTY years after it was originally published and is widely available used.
Amy Asks a Question… Grandma – What’s a Lesbian? (1996) was written by Jeanne Arnold and illustrated by Barbaba Lindquist, partners and co-founders of the book’s publisher, Mother Courage Press.
Amy, a young girl with lesbian grandmothers, is called a lesbian at school when her and some girl friends hug after winning a soccer game. Amy is confused and later asks her mother what “lesbian” means. The girl’s mother brings her to Grandma Bonnie who provides a detailed and celebratory description of what being a lesbian means to her.
The wordy book scattered with a few black-and-white drawings, introduces several aspects of lesbian culture: pride parades, rainbow flags, pink triangle pins, and commitment ceremonies/handfasting. It provides a positive and passionate description of lesbian love and community.
I am not sure who the intended audience is. The book is far too wordy for young children. The description of lesbian culture is so detailed that I can’t imagine anyone reading it wouldn’t have already answered the question – what’s a lesbian? – for their audience. Even within the text, Amy’s ignorance and need to ask about the meaning of “lesbian” is awkward. She knows her gay uncle died of AIDS-related complications, but doesn’t know what a lesbian is. I found that a bit farfetched.
I don’t recommend this book for the purpose of introducing children to sexual identities and cultures, but it is a fun addition to adult collections because of it’s celebration of lesbian love. For instance, when describing being lesbian to Amy, Grandma Bonnie says: “The benefit of being a lesbian is one of the best kept secrets ever. And it’s more than just making love, it’s being in love with, laughing and crying, sharing experiences together with each other and other women an children – and men we can trust.” Lines like this, references to the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, and paganism, make it worth the purchase if you can find it used!
Published by Candlewick Press in 1994, Mr. Pam Pam and the Hullabazoo is written by Trish Cooke and illustrated by Patrice Aggs. The story is told in the first-person from the point of view of a child who Mr. Pam Pam visits with his baby. Mr. Pam Pam is a long limbed goofy Black man who garners giggles from the narrator and and the narrator’s mom with exaggerated movements and silly jokes. He has a running joke with the narrator involving a character named Hullabazoo. The young boy isn’t sure if Hullabazoo is real until one day when he shows up at the child’s house dressed clownishly.
The only thing that marks the text as queer is Mr. Pam Pam and Hullabazoo walking down the street together after spending time with the narrator. Hullabazoo’s arm is on Mr. Pam Pam’s shoulder as he pushes the stroller with (presumably) their baby in it. The book certainly invites an aha moment – yes! – Hullabazoo is real and he is Mr. Pam Pam’s man. However, this reading might need to be prompted by an adult because the text’s subtlety.
This is a fun, very goofy story that will invite lots of giggles from very young readers. The queer subtext is so subtle I won’t suggest it as a must-have for LGBTQ collections, but it is quite easy and inexpensive to purchase used, and it’s a good read!
Originally published in Denmark, Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin, written by Susanne Bosche and translated from Danish by Louis Mackay, was published by London’s Gay Men’s Press in 1983. The wordy text, printed in green font, is accompanied by realistic photos of two men and their daughter, Jenny. Jenny’s biological mother lives near the couple and visits frequently. The family is depicted completing everyday tasks from cooking and cleaning to organizing a birthday party.
The text takes homophobia on by depicting the angry reaction of an older woman the family accidentally bumps into while walking down a street. She makes homophobic comments that Jenny overhears, which prompts Jenny’s dads to explain why some people are homophobic through chalk sketches depicted in the text as a mini-comic book-style insert.
Overall, I appreciate the depiction of a queer family arrangement, and the everydayness of the settings the family negotiates. However, the book has not aged well, in part because of the realistic photo depictions of the family. Additionally, some images depict Jenny and her dad’s in bed when they are naked. This is an odd choice. Although the images are intimate without being inappropriately sexual, they are awkward. I also found the book far too wordy and slow-paced for its intended audience. I understand the desire to meander through the lived experience of two men raising a child, but the book didn’t hold my attention and I can’t imagine children finding it very engaging. This is an interesting piece of LGBT history worth reading/collecting if you are an adult building an archive, but I don’t recommend it for young readers.